So what were (are?) you doing before you turned (turn?) 30 years old?
Partying your way through college? Diligently trying to climb your career ladder while making peanuts and eating ramen noodles? Slacking on your parents’ couch and playing video games?
Well, some people were blessed with superior athletic talent and are playing sports at the professional level and earning excellent salaries doing it (even if they have to ride the bench most of the time). You’re probably watching a lot of these athletes on TV. Maybe you’re even shelling out your hard-earned money to buy tickets to see them live, or purchasing a certain athlete’s jersey or shoes, or even betting on how well they’ll do in their next game.
And then, there are those select few athletes who are prodigies even among their peers: the top 1% of the top 1%. These are the ones who tend to be known by a single name, are discussed frequently on your favorite sports shows, and are recording achievements not reached by the majority of their teammates and competitors. As part of their success, these individuals are being sought after by companies large and small to pitch, wear, or represent their products, which results in hefty endorsement deals and (of course) even more cash for these already-rich athletes.
These athletes are making ungodly amounts of money and haven’t even entered their fourth decade of life yet. They are the nouveau riche of the sports world and could retire tomorrow without ever working a day in their life – but they’ll probably continue to amass even more cash in the future (provided they don’t go bankrupt).
Do you love these athletes? Are you inspired by them? Do you chuckle when they stumble or fall? Or is there some truth to all of these?
As a public service, we have assembled a list of the ten richest athletes under 30 which you can envy, hate, adore, or emulate. All monetary figures are 2013 earnings as compiled by Forbes Magazine, and all ages are current as of April 1, 2014.
10. Lewis Hamilton, F1 Racing – $27.5 million
Since he lives in Monaco, he’s gotta be rich, right? Americans may not be that familiar with the 29-year old Formula 1 star who is the centerpiece of the Mercedes F1 racing team. Hamilton spent six years with McLaren racing and won an F1 world championship in 2008, but made the jump to Mercedes in large part because he would receive more freedom to pursue his endorsement opportunities (which McLaren tends to micromanage for its drivers). His $26 million in prize money in 2013 is the highest amount of non-salaried earnings in the world for anyone who doesn’t wear boxing gloves. And the English-born Hamilton shows no signs of slowing down – he just won the Malaysian Grand Prix this past weekend.
9. Carmelo Anthony, Basketball – $28 million
Did you know that the top-selling NBA jersey among fans in 2012 was the one worn by this superstar? (Also, only LeBron and Kobe sold more shoes.) The 29-year old Anthony is starting to rake in the bank since he came to the Big Apple and started playing for the New York Knicks in 2011. He’s never averaged less than 20 points a game in his career, and he has started each one of the almost 800 games he has played. His current contract pays him $21.3 million a year, putting him in the top five earners in the NBA (ahead of LeBron and the other two ballers on this list).
8. Maria Sharapova, Tennis – $29 million
The 26-year old Russian-born Sharapova is the ultimate example of a marketable sports personality. For her actual play, she earns less than anyone on this list – cashing checks worth just $6 million in 2013. The rest of her dough is from endorsements, making her the highest-paid female athlete in the world every year since 2006. Her corporate sponsors read like a Who’s Who: Canon, Porsche, Tiffany, Head, Tag Heuer, and Nike. The latter paid her $70 million for an eight-year shoe contract and gave her a nice bonus for winning a career Grand Slam when she captured the 2012 French Open. But Sharapova, who now lives in Florida, has aggressively pursued other business opportunities on her own, creating her own clothing line and also founding “Sugarpova” a candy company that donates part of its profits to charity. Only the Williams sisters have earned more prize money for a women’s tennis career.
7. Rory McIlroy, Golf – $29.6 million
He may not have the face of a movie star, but McIlroy‘s game has propelled him to the top three of the richest golfers in 2013 (behind Tiger and Mickelson). And it’s enough for the 24-year old to be walking down the aisle later this year with women’s tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. The Northern Ireland native inked a huge deal with Nike last year which will reportedly pay him between $10 and $15 million annually for five years. But after winning four events in 2012, his has performance dropped a bit. McIlroy did not notch a single victory on the PGA Tour last year and is winless thus far this year, though he did reach the $16 million in career earnings in 2014. He does hold the distinction of being the youngest player to ever reach career earnings levels of $10 million on the PGA Tour and 10 million euros on the European Tour.
6. Kevin Durant, Basketball – $30.9 million
He’s only 25 years old, but the D.C. native is already one of the 20 richest athletes in the world according to Forbes. He’s in the middle of a five-year, $89 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, his jersey was fourth in overall sales last year, and he also has a seven-year shoe deal with Nike. But Durant’s endorsement portfolio is pretty diverse, with names like Gatorade, General Electric, 2K Sports, Panini, BBVA, and Degree For Men. And he also appeared in a memorable Sprint commercial where he was shown cleaning gutters. Plus, Durant helped open a restaurant in Oklahoma City called KD’s Southern Cuisine. He even tried his hand at acting in the children’s film Thunderstruck, so his global marketing appeal doesn’t appear to be waning. All he needs now is a championship ring.
5. Joe Flacco, Football – $36.8 million
Flacco‘s name on this list may be surprising for two reasons: because of his salary and because he looks older than Peyton Manning. But the Baltimore Ravens quarterback is only 29, and he jumped onto this list because of the blockbuster deal he signed in 2013. With a $29 million signing bonus and a six-year, $120+million contract, Flacco became the highest-paid NFL quarterback in history (for a few months until Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan signed their new contracts). Almost all Flacco’s money comes from his salary, although he did make some money shilling for McDonalds and has had relationships with Reebok and Pizza Hut in the past. The Audubon, New Jersey native and the pride of the University of Delaware is known for having perhaps the strongest arm in the NFL.
4. Derrick Rose, Basketball – $37.4 million
Yes, you can insert your own “workers’ compensation pay” joke here. Since Rose signed a five-year, $95 million contract extension in 2011, he still gets paid while rehabbing his knee and sitting on the bench. The 25-year old is also reaping the benefits of a shoe deal with Adidas that pays him a reported $185 million over a whopping 13 years. He also joined Durant and Blake Griffin as a “spokesman” for NBA 2K13, along with being a partner in a pizza eatery and a car dealership in the Chicago area. It remains to be seen whether Rose can ever attain his previous form (and earn the endorsements that are commensurate with his talent), or if his career is on the downswing thanks to his injury-plagued knees.
3. Lionel Messi, Soccer – $41.3 million
Say what you want about the pay scales of American sports, but two of the top entries on this list are both international soccer players. The 26-year old Messi‘s earnings are split almost equally between playing salary and endorsements. After scoring a record-breaking 90 goals in the calendar year 2012, Messi was rewarded with a $20 million-a-year contract extension that will keep him in an FC Barcelona kit until 2018. He was the four-time FIFA Player of the Year before finishing second last season to the only player ahead of him on this list. Off the field, Messi became the only soccer player not named David Beckham to have a signature shoe line launched by Adidas. He’s also the brand ambassador for Turkish Airlines, and has appeared in some commercials in Asia. The Argentinian native will likely be heard from again this summer when he competes for his nation at the World Cup in Brazil.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Soccer – $44 million
The 29-year old Portuguese forward finally garnered FIFA Player of the Year honors last season after finishing second twice to Messi. While Ronaldo earns an estimate $23 million on the pitch annually, that number could rise in the future if his contract talks with Real Madrid yield even larger numbers (his current deal expires at the end of next season). But his endorsement portfolio is certainly nothing to sneeze at, with a shoe deal with Nike which runs through this year, a spokesman contract for Emporio Armani, and other agreements with Coca-Cola, KFC, Motorola, Herbalife, Konami, Jacob & Co., Banco Espirito Santo, and Castrol. The top goal-scorer in Portugal’s history, Ronaldo’s name could be worth even more in the marketplace depending on how well he performs at this summer’s World Cup.
1. LeBron James, Basketball – $59.8 million
It’s good to be The King. The 29-year old James is the NBA’s most marketable star by far. The A-list of companies who are benefiting from his endorsements includes Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nike, Upper Deck, Dunkin Donuts, Audemars Piguet, and Samsung (He also inked a royalty agreement with Beats by Dre Wireless Studio headphones). James’ NBA jersey was the top seller in the NBA this past year. And you know how we mentioned Carmelo Anthony‘s shoe sales earlier? LeBron’s shoe line outsold his (and Kobe’s) in the U.S. by more than six to one. And with his two NBA Championship Rings, two Olympic gold medals, and four NBA MVP awards, LeBron’s bank account can easily go higher. Only Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and Kobe Bryant earn more money as athletes – in any age bracket.
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